ISLAMABAD: Any decision by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers to resign en masse from all four provincial assemblies will bind the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold by-polls on all vacant seats within two months, legal experts believe.

They say Article 224(4) of the Constitution is very clear as it reads, “When, except by dissolution of the National Assembly or a Provincial Assembly, a seat in any such Assembly has become vacant not later than one hundred and twenty days before the term of that Assembly is due to expire, an election to fill the seat shall be held within sixty days from the occurrence of the vacancy”.

The seat will fall vacant only after the resignation has been accepted by the speaker.

A senior ECP official, when contacted, said the commission would strictly follow the law in such a case.

If all PTI lawmakers quit, subsequent electoral exercise will cost exchequer Rs25bn

“The ECP is fully ready for the next general elections and it would have no problem in conducting the bypolls [as well],” he emphasised.

Answering a question, he said the ECP had nothing to do with any decision on holding early general elections, which can only be taken at the political level.

In response to another question, he said an estimated Rs25 billion would be spent on the by-elections in case PTI lawmakers resigned from all the provincial assemblies.

“It would be a mini-general election,” he said, pointing out that the estimated expense on general elections would be around Rs47bn.

The ECP official agreed that it would be a gigantic task to hold such a massive electoral exercise only months before the general elections are due.

Mentioning the ECP’s schedule, he said the second phase of local government elections in Sindh is set to take place on Jan 15. However, he added, things could be managed by holding staggered polls.

“It is not a legal requirement to hold the elections on a single day,” he explained.

He, however, said that the situation would be different if the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtun­khwa assemblies were dissolved. In that case, he added, the two assemblies would be elected for a five-year term, and the elections would be held within 90 days of the dissolution.

Former Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani, when contacted for comment, said the idea was still at the formulative stage and there’s many a slip ’twixt cup and lip. He said it has to be seen if the entire PTI parliamentary party agrees to Imran Khan’s proposal or not.

Mr Rabbani, who is a constitutional expert, said legally and politically, there was no requirement to call general elections, even if resignations were tendered en masse.

He said that under Article 224(4) it was the responsibility of the ECP to hold by-elections within 60 days when a member of a provincial assembly resigns from his seat.

A lawmaker from the ruling PDM coalition predicted that any such decision, if finalised, would create more rifts within the PTI.

Meanwhile, the ECP roundly denied issuing any official statement concerning the by-elections of national and provincial assemblies in case of the PTI lawmakers’ resignations.

A journalist had asked questions about the law, rules and expenditures to be incurred on holding the by-elections in case PTI quit the assemblies.

The ECP spokesman, in a statement, lamented that his answers to the queries were reported ‘out of context.’

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2022

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